Chapter 1 – Part 1 : Defeat


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(Narration by PringleWings! Sound effects from Freesound)

Your battle axe slips from your grasp as you fall to your knees. You grimace and cough up a little blood as your opponent looks on in silence.

You beat your fist against the ground. Twice now, you’ve been bested in single combat by the one who stands before you. How could this be? You glance up at the masked fighter and the large, jagged, blood-covered scythe they wield. Your battle axe should have had the advantage here, so how could you lose? Did you miscalculate..? Or maybe it’s them; are they more powerful? More skilled?

It doesn’t matter now. It was close, but in the end, they remain armed, and in a position to strike again, if they so choose. All that’s left for you to do now is gracefully accept defeat and offer congratulations .

You can’t see the face beyond the mask, but it sounds like they’re smiling.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” they say… “It’s rare to see… someone who can actually hold their own out here. Most people talk big, but when it comes down to it… Thugs and bandits usually, but they’re mostly harmless on their own.”

They lean against their scythe, then sound a little more serious when they speak again.

“… What are you doing out here, anyway?”

You get to your feet, a little stiff and sore, and start to brush yourself off with a shiver. The air starts to get chillier as the night draws in and cold winds from the Southern desert begin to pick up.

While this wasn’t on your schedule, your original plan was to go wherever the wind takes you .

The stranger snorts, amused.

“The wind will take you straight to the afterlife if you don’t get out of here,” they say. “I heard this area is prone to get sideswiped by sandstorms… ”

They glance in the direction of the desert.

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like getting sandblasted any time soon. The closest settlement is in a valley not too far from here; that’s where I was heading before all… this… ”

They motion toward your little battlefield.

“You’re free to tag along if you want, but if not… ” They trail off.

You consider for a moment. The idea of having your skin peeled off by swirling sand doesn’t sound too enjoyable, especially not combined with the cold and your increasing soreness. You have no real idea where you are, and wandering around blindly in the dark wouldn’t be a good idea either. Best to just head into town, get your bearings and go from there.

The stranger nods, then leads the way.

Before long, you see the twinkling of lights in the distance, and eventually, the two of you end up in a small town outside The White Hound tavern. The two of you enter the establishment, which is warm and relatively cosy; a welcome respite from the temperature outside, which doesn’t seem to be too far away from freezing. There are a few patrons, with some light chatter and the occasional clink of cups and cutlery, but it is mostly empty and quiet.

You flop into a chair at a table near the fire, and, after a brief discussion with the stranger where you realise; you don’t have any of the local currency (a fact which again amuses the stranger), they offer to buy you a meal, a drink, and pay for a room for you for the night, as a consolation for your horrible loss to them in battle. Irritation aside, no point passing up on the offer of free stuff, especially as starting another fight wouldn’t be in your best interests right now…

A little while later, you sit with your bowl of hot stew and mug of cold ale, staring idly into the fire as you eat. The stranger leans back in their chair, resting their arms behind their head.

“I suppose I should introduce myself. I am Ameronis of Griasse, and I am, put simply, on a journey seeking knowledge. And, you are..?”

You take a moment to chew your food, thinking quickly. Without missing a beat, you swallow, and confidently tell Ameronis that your name is ‘Valine’ Ameronis nods, satisfied with that answer, and you file this name away for continued future use.

The two of you talk idly for a while longer, during which time you learn that they’re planning to go to bed relatively soon, and will be leaving the tavern early in the morning and heading out of town to continue their journey.

You contemplate this for a while, considering if this is the last time you’ll see them. They can disappear over the horizon, and you can carry on with… whatever you find yourself doing when you step back out into the town tomorrow. Just another stranger briefly crossing your path and disappearing just as quickly.

On the other hand, this time, they don’t seem like they’re interested in another rematch, so, if you wanted one more stab at kicking their butt this time, you’d lose the opportunity to demand one. Though, if they beat you a third time, they might not be so lenient as to let you live…

You swill the dregs of your ale around in your cup.

Then there’s the matter of them paying for your food and board. On the one hand, they offered to pay of their own free will, so why look a gift horse in the mouth? It certainly made things easier for you, what with you not having valid money for this area, and the cold and the dark coming in.

But, on the other hand, again, you don’t need their charity. You’re sure you could’ve managed on your own, somehow. After all, you made it this far. The idea of being indebted to someone, especially in a case like this… Should you just let it go?

Your thoughts are interrupted when you realise that the previously quiet chatter of the other patrons is overridden by the incredibly loud ranting of an older man who seems to have recently entered while you were spacing out. You can’t tell if he’s drunk or just angry, but whatever his problem is, it’s starting to become everyone else’s problem as he disturbs the peace with his complaints and demands as he sits at the bar. While his racket is the main focus, the man is accompanied by a younger woman, who, while mostly quiet, seems to be very on edge, as if she’s expecting everyone to jump up and get her.

The other patrons regard them briefly before going back to their own business and pretending that the couple does not exist, but a few who catch the attention of the man are soon on the receiving end of an angry tirade; one such group decides they’ve had enough and choose to leave rather than stick around.

You shake your head as you watch them leave, wondering if you should go upstairs and escape too. As you glance back across the room you manage to catch the eye of the man, who is now leaning with his back against the bar and looking in your direction. He sneers at you.

“‘Ey..! … What you lookin’at..?!”

You blink in surprise. The last thing you had intended was to become a target yourself. You don’t even waste your breath; your confused blink quickly turns into an icy glare , one that would make even the hardest thug think twice.

For a moment, the man had thought he had found another easy target, but he quickly falters before his face crumples into another sneer as he turns away, waving at you dismissively.

“Ehhhh, you ain’t worth my time… ”

He mutters a little under his breath (most likely directing some curses your way) as he resumes scanning the room. He continues his general complaints and rambling until the barkeeper attempts to quiet him down; either buy something and shut up, or go be annoying somewhere else.

With no one responding to his prodding, and the wind being taken out of his sails a little bit by your response, he decides that this place sucks and that he’d find more life in a graveyard. So, with one final angry rant, he decides to take his leave, speaking as though some other establishment will appreciate his presence, and jostles the woman ahead of him out of the front door; she looks as though she’s accepted her fate.

When the door finally closes, the rest of the tavern collectively breathes a sigh of relief, and the peaceful atmosphere quickly returns as the barkeeper moves over to pick up a stool the man knocked over on his way out. Ameronis leans back in their chair.

“Charming fellow. I’m sure he’ll be welcomed with open arms wherever he decides to go next… ” they say.

Ameronis stands and stretches, glancing at the clock on the mantelpiece above the fireplace: 10:36.

“After all this excitement I’m pooped. I’m heading up to bed, so I’ll see you when I see you. Maybe.”

Ameronis waves and you nod in return.

‘Yeah, maybe… ’ you think to yourself.

You watch them go, then stare into the fire idly for a while, picking up your thoughts from where you left off before you were rudely interrupted. The clock chimes for 11, snapping you back again. You rise, stretching yourself, the stiffness from your earlier battle settling in further. Some rest would definitely be a good idea.

You shut yourself in your room upstairs, put your stuff down and promptly collapse into bed. While it’s no 5-star hotel, the room, plainly furnished, is clean enough as far as you can tell, warm and dry, and the bed is comfortable; certainly in comparison to the floor you slept on in your sleeping bag last night. Initially, you lie in the darkened room listening to the faint sounds from all around but soon fall into a deep sleep.

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